When people casually refer to America in their speech, they usually mean ‘The United States of America the country of Abraham Lincoln, Hollywood and the greenback dollar bill. This in itself is a vast nation of 9.8 million square kilometres (3.8m sq miles), 50 states and 316 million inhabitants, with the most powerful economy on earth. But it is only part of ‘the Americas which more accurately includes Canada and the whole continent of South America, and forms a combined landmass adding up to 29% of the Earth’s total land area.
It used to be taught in Europe at least that America was “discovered” by Christopher Columbus in 1492 but named after Amerigo Vespucci, the explorer from Florence, Italy, who sailed to “the New World” in 1499. The first known use of the name America is on a French map dated 1507, but we now know that another European, the Norse explorer Lief Ericson, had been there around 500 years earlier and settled briefly in what he called Vinland. Even this correction is a Euro-centric view, because the inhabitants entitled to be considered indigenous moved to the Americas between 40,000 BC and 3,500 BC from Asia.
North and South America are unique among the continents for forming a continuous landmass between the north and south polar regions stretching 14,000km (8,700 miles). Down the western side of both continents runs a chain of mountains which form the Andes in the southern continent and the Rocky Mountains in the northern. The same collision of tectonic plates that forced up this Cordillera Americana is responsible for the Pacific Ring of Fire an arc having 75% of the world’s active volcanoes and 90% of its earthquakes. The best known geological feature of the Ring of Fire is probably the San Andreas Fault, which was responsible for the devastating 1906 San Francisco Earthquake, and which has California constantly on alert for the “next big one.
The continent of South America is largely in the southern hemisphere Venezuela, Guyana and Suriname are the only sovereign countries south of what we call Central America to lie entirely in the northern hemisphere, along with part of Brazil, most of Colombia and a tiny bit of Ecuador. The other countries making up the 13 are Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Paraguay, Peru, Trinidad and Tobago, and Uruguay. Rio de Janeiro, featured in our photo gallery, is only the 3rd most populous city on the continent after São Paulo and Buenos Aires. Indeed São Paulo is larger than any other city in the Americas apart from New York, and with over 20 million inhabitants is the 9th most populous city in the world. Brazil is by far the largest country in South America, both in terms of population (193 million) and land area (8.5 million square kilometres).
From the point of view of tourism, South America is a place of superlatives. The highest waterfall in the world, Angel Falls, is in Venezuela; the largest rainforest is in the Amazon Basin; the Andes add up to the longest mountain range on earth; and the Atacama Desert in Chile is the driest place in the world. La Paz in Bolivia is the highest capital city and Lake Titicaca is the highest navigable lake. The world’s southernmost permanent community is at Puerto Toro in Chile, and one of the world’s largest slums is the shanty town (or favela in São Paulo. Other fascinating destinations around the continent include the Galapagos Islands, the awesome peaks of Torres del Paine in Patagonia, and the lost mountain top Inca settlement of Machu Picchu. Look at all list of Chile cities.
The photo galleries on this site include some of the great cities in the Americas, with free pictures of New York and San Francisco in the north, and Rio de Janeiro in the south. You can navigate to pictures of Canada and the US states of California and Florida using the drop-down menu. The much-larger-than-life Las Vegas and its desert surroundings are covered, and for photos of a very different climate go to the page on Eskimos the Inuit people.
In addition to many magnificent photos you will find interesting facts about the history and geography of these parts of America, alongside travel information and suggestions for places to stay and what to see and do while you are there.